Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, an important antioxidant that is not present in regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes can be consumed just like regular potatoes--baked, mashed or as french fries. They present a good way to add more color and nutrition to your favorite side dishes. However, if you are prone to bloating, sweet potatoes, just like regular potatoes, may worsen your problem.
Sweet potatoes contain a type of sugar called mannitol, which belongs to the family of fermentable short-chain carbohydrates. Mannitol is also found in cauliflower, mushrooms, watermelon and celery and is usually not problematic for most people. However, if you are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome or are prone to bloating, this type of sugar can be rapidly fermented in your intestines by the bacteria of your gut flora. The fermentation of the mannitol of sweet potatoes in your gut can produce a lot of gas, which accumulates in your intestines and makes you feel bloated.
For some people, especially those prone to irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disorders, starches in general, whether they come from sweet potatoes, potatoes or grains, can lead to bloating. Starches are made of a chain of glucose, or sugar, linked to one another. Carbohydrates from starches as well as sugar can cause bloating if you have a small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, also called SIBO, whether you are aware of it or not.
Food for Bacteria
The starches found in sweet potatoes are broken down into single molecules of sugars called glucose. If you have SIBO, this glucose can become food for the bacteria living in your small intestines. If these excessive bacteria feed on the starches you eat before your body gets a chance to absorb them, a lot of gas can be produced as a result, which can cause not only bloating but also belching, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation. You can ask your doctor to have a hydrogen breath test to detect the presence of a bacterial overgrowth in your small intestines.
Sweet Potato Substitutes
Sweet potatoes usually do not help with bloating and can usually worsen your problem. Whether the mannitol or starches found in sweet potatoes are fermented and used to feed the bacteria in your intestines, you can avoid the bloating by substituting sweet potatoes with safer foods. For example, you can use butternut squash, pumpkin or other winter squashes to prepare tasty side dishes that are free of both mannitol and excessive starches. For example, you can serve your meal with mashed pumpkin or make oven-baked french fries with butternut squash.
- "Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet"; Elaine Gottschall; 2007
- Siboinfo.com: What Is SIBO?
- "IBS--Free at Last!: A Revolutionary, New Step-by-Step Method for Those Who Have Tried Everything. Control IBS Symptoms by Limiting FODMAPS Carbohydrates in Your Diet"; Patsy Catsos; 2009